Boston’s rising sea levels

One reader of my piece on Boston Under Water, the cover story in Sunday’s Boston Globe Magazine, wrote in to say “I’m keeping a copy of this week’s magazine so that in 30 years I can pull it out and have a good laugh at the absurd predictions and loony policy suggestions. Thanks in advance for a good laugh!”

First, I would be happy in 30 years to be one of those reporters whose articles get held up as an example of how little we really know about the future. If I’m still coherent, I’ll breathe a small inward sigh of relief that I didn’t talk up the plans some have to retreat to Worcester.

It is certainly true that science is not linear. We are not marching along the x axis in a perfect set of dots, sea levels rising a tad each year. Within the last five years, sea levels around Boston even dropped slightly in an 18-month period.  But they’re on the rise again, and my article was based on what scientific models predict will happen over time. We can mock models for their inability to predict the weather more than a few days out, but sea level models work on long-term averages, not specific points (here are good basic and intermediate explainers of how the models work). The models have worked well for what we know of the past, which gives them some authority when talking about the future.

I fear my scoffing reader will not bother to save their copy of the magazine when the basement starts flooding twice a day.

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